Friday, March 09, 2007

Keeping Up With The Joneses And Other Matters

Last year Cardiff (where I live) hosted the world record gathering of people with the same surname. I'm telling you this so you know, if you didn't already, there are a lot of people called Jones.
Via old Nick (why didn't I notice that joke before?), in Leaving the Left behind in the Australian Literary Review, Richard King considers books by Berman, Beinart, and Cohen.

IN Communism: A Love Story, Jeff Sparrow's new biography of Melbourne-based communist activist Guido Baracchi, there is a page-long list of abbreviations designed to guide the general reader through the factions and fractions of the Australian Left.
Needless to say, the list is essential: the radical Left is notoriously quarrelsome and acronyms are thick on the ground. Monty Python's Life of Brian is first and foremost a satire on religion but it is also a satire on radical politics: the endless debates and qualifications ("Comrades, this calls for immediate discussion!"); the divisions within and between different groups ("We're the People's Front of Judea, not the Judean People's Front!").
Nor is the Left's sectarianism confined to the pamphlet and the political meeting. In the May days of 1937, Republicans in the streets of Barcelona forgot their common enemy -- fascism -- and descended into fratricide.
One way or another, they have been fighting ever since.


King goes on and discusses all the enemies of decency (Michael Moore, Chomsky, Pilger, etc) before he comes to our boy.

For Cohen, this is the clinching disgrace: "For all the atrocities and follies committed in its name, the Left possessed this virtue: it would stand firm against fascism. After the Iraq war, I don't believe that a fair-minded outsider could say it does that any more."

Assuming Richard King is a fair-minded outsider, he appears to have said that the left didn't do that in the 1930s either. King appears to want us to believe that Cohen is right with "the Left possessed this virtue: it would stand firm against fascism" while at the same time he himself thinks that almost three score years and ten ago the left did not "stand firm against fascism". Of course 'doublethink' is what 'the Left' do, not the Friends of Decency. Confused? You will be.
Who was responsible for the satire on radical politics? It was written by Graham Chapman and John Cleese and Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle and Terry Jones and Michael Palin; and directed by Terry Jones. Terry Jones played Mandy Cohen/Colin/Simon the Holy Man/Bob Hoskins/Saintly Passer-by/Alarmed Crucifixion Assistant. Pro-war blogger Norman Geras objected to something in his daily newspaper of choice some time ago.

The Guardian, as it happens, does sometimes publish humour, or what purports to be humour, on its opinion pages. It did so last Friday, with this piece by Terry Jones - about as funny, in the event, as coming upon a three-day-old corpse in a lift would be.

I wonder if the funny Terry Jones and the unfunny Terry Jones are by any chance related?
The Left was nothing if not inconsistent in its reaction to September 11 2001.

Bin Ladenists, it was said, were the fish that swim in the sea of Islamic discontent, while the planes that felled the twin towers were chickens coming home to roost.

And, at the same time:

From the claim that the CIA created al-Qa'ida and Osama bin Laden, to the idea that the attacks on New York and Washington were carried out by Israeli intelligence, 9/11 and the war on terror have proven a happy hunting ground for those who would seek to cast America as at best incompetent and at worst malevolent.

Today I've learned that I believe 'the planes that felled the twin towers were chickens coming home to roost' and that the attacks 'were carried out by Israeli intelligence' (or perhaps Israeli chickens).

Chomsky's pamphlet, 9/11, (published with unseemly haste) was largely ignored in the serious journals, but proved a bestseller nonetheless.

Serious journals: good. I think by 'serious journals' King means the mainstream press rather than 'Psycholinguistics Today' or whatever. King goes on:

The most comprehensive and coherent statement of this anti-totalitarian Left was advanced in April 2006 in the form of the Euston Manifesto ...

Which says:

The present initiative has its roots in and has found a constituency through the Internet, especially the "blogosphere". It is our perception, however, that this constituency is under-represented elsewhere - in much of the media and the other forums of contemporary political life.

Serious journals: bad.

Cohen echoes Hannah Arendt's theory that terror is the essence of totalitarianism and this is the pivotal insight of the anti-totalitarian Left. Indeed, the notion of a war on terror only makes sense when set within a liberal context.

Didn't Orwell make Arendt's point rather well with O'Brien's "If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever"? (And indeed the whole of 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'?) Does King mean that when John F Kennedy (who was a Democrat and hence arguably a liberal) precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis - he was fighting a war on totalitarianism and terror, but his conservative and Republican predecessor Dwight D Eisenhower wasn't? And when the US backed Saddam against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war - that wasn't fighting totalitarianism?
Did the CIA create bin Laden? probably not, but they may have helped create the Taleban. There's a good comment here on how.
Shocking.

2 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

"Cohen echoes Hannah Arendt's theory that terror is the essence of totalitarianism and this is the pivotal insight of the anti-totalitarian Left. Indeed, the notion of a war on terror only makes sense when set within a liberal context."

Didn't Orwell make Arendt's point rather well with O'Brien's "If you want to imagine the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever"?


Possibly a better example might be this:

He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: 'How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?'

Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.

'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation.

3/10/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Ex Ponto said...

Nick seems to be having a rather good time in Australian reviews. Only a couple of weeks ago I opened the News Review section of my Saturday morning Sydney Morning Herald to find Nick's mug staring up accusingly at me. I almost wept when I read the damn thing. Why did this journalist not call him on his shameless distortions and misrepresentations? I suppose I don't blame the poor fellow. For those who haven't read the rest of Nick's oeuvre, it's probably only reasonable believe that he's arguing in good faith.

3/10/2007 03:42:00 PM  

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